My 6 Favorite Leicas Ever

Feb 25, 2019  By Jason Schneider
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My 6 Favorite Leicas Ever

Schneider’s fearless picks for the timeless Leicas that ring his Westminster chimes.

“What’s your favorite Leica?” is a question I’ve been asked several thousand times over the past 50 years, and here’s my stock answer: my beloved single-stroke Leica M3, serial number just over 1,100,000, with 50mm f/2 Dual-Range Summicron and goggles that I bought brand new in 1966. I own a little over 200 cameras in all and that M3 is the only camera I’ve ever bought with the express purpose of collecting it—all the rest are user-collectibles. I do run a couple of rolls of film through it every year just to keep its shutter limbered up, but most if the time my mint M3 just sits on the shelf so I can gloat over my prized possession and marvel at its beauty.

Recently, as I cradled the comfortably rounded ends of my now 53-year-old Leica M3 in my hands, peered through its magnificent viewfinder, and fired off a few blank frames, another question occurred to me—what other Leicas would I put on my short list of “favorites?” After considerable cogitation, and batting the subject around with a few fellow Leica fanatics, I think I’ve come up with five more, and it’s noteworthy that all 6 models listed below mark significant turning points in the Leica’s nearly 100-year-long history. While I’m deeply indebted to my knowledgeable Leica buddies for their astute suggestions, please blame me if you take exception to any of the choices that follow, or if your favorite Leica has been omitted.  And by all means let me know your preferences so I can do a follow up piece, “Readers’ Favorite Leicas” covering models didn’t make my personal cut.

  1. Leica I (model A) of 1925. It’s a no-brainer because Oskar Barnack’s masterpiece is on everybody’s short list. It established the Leica legend and set a high standard for everything else that followed, but it’s easy to lose sight of the sheer technical audacity and conceptual perfection of this “simple” manual focus camera that set it apart from everything that preceded it. For starters, winding the film to the next frame automatically cocks the 1/20-1/500 sec (plus T) horizontal cloth focal plane shutter for the next exposure and advances the (manually zeroed) frame counter placed concentrically below the film wind knob by one frame—pretty spiffy for 90+ years ago. And the fact that its high quality 4-element 50mm f/3.5 Leitz Elmar lens was collapsible kept its body size (L x W x H) to a minuscule 133 x 39 x 65 mm or 5.24 x 1.54 x 2.60 inches—a true pocket precision miniature with superb ergonomics that swiftly became the connoisseur’s point and shoot of its day. At its initial U.S. selling price of $75 in 1925 (about $1,100 in today’s dollars) most Leica I purchasers were pretty well heeled, but it was nevertheless such a smashing success that it singlehandedly put 35mm still photography on the map, forever changing the course of photography.
  • Leica II (model D) of 1932. Many Leica aficionados underrate the importance of the Leica II but it’s one of the most ingenious Leicas ever devised, and it established the basic design of all subsequent screw-mount rangefinder Leicas up to and including the last Leica IIIg that was discontinued nearly 3 decades later in 1960. The Leica II included a coupled short-base (39mm base length), high magnification (1.5x) rangefinder with an effective base length (EBL) of 58.5mm, and a 50mm inverse Galilean optical finder with a separate eyepiece, all built within the same ultra-compact form factor as the original Leica I model A, and the 39mm screw mount Leica Standard (model E) that preceded it! It also pioneered the spring-loaded, roller-ended rangefinder coupling arm that follows the focusing cams on the rear helicoids of all Leica II-, III-, and M-series Leica lenses, not to mention scads of competitive rangefinder lenses for Leicas and other cameras. The only thing the Leica II did not have was shutter speeds slower than 1/20 sec, but that was remedied only a year later in 1933 with the introduction of an alternative model, the Leica III, the first Leica with that charming little front mounted slow speed dial.

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1 Comment

Nice choices, Jason. I own examples of most LTM and M Leica models that were made. The I Model A, the II Model D and the M3 rank among my favourites. Of the later LTM models my favourites are the sharkskin models which date from around the time that I was born, either ‘c’ models or ones which have been converted to ‘f Black Dial’ models. As regards digital Leicas, I don’t have the same feelings towards them, but the M10 I am using now is nicer than other digital models that I have used.

William



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